The player starting at small forward for the Clippers is supposed to be Marques Johnson, but interim Coach Don Chaney says it surely must be an imposter. There's no way, he says, the real Johnson could be playing this poorly.
In a 129-111 loss to the Kansas City Kings Sunday before 4,367 at the Kemper Arena, Johnson scored a season-low six points as the Clippers extended their season-high losing streak to nine games in another dismal effort.
"He hasn't been Marques Johnson," said Chaney, who is now 0-3 as interim coach after replacing Jim Lynam last Wednesday. "I expect, in the next couple of games, for him to become the real Marques Johnson. It's confidence, more than anything else. He's going to get it back."
The Clippers certainly need something to help them win a game. They will take a road-losing streak of 13 games into tonight's game with the Detroit Pistons at Cobo Arena.
Although Johnson's poor play certainly isn't the only reason the Clippers are holders of the league's worst record in the second-half of the season, it definitely is a contributing factor.
Johnson, once considered one of the NBA's best small forwards, has seen his scoring average slip to 16.5 a game, lowest in his career. He hit bottom this weekend, scoring eight points (2-of-12 shooting) Friday against Chicago and six points (3 of 9) Sunday against Kansas City.
"I'm definitely struggling at this point," Johnson said. "We (he and Chaney) have talked about it. I just have to try and get back into some type of groove. I'm very down at this point."
Injuries have been Johnson's biggest problem this season. He's had a broken finger, a strained hamstring and a sprained ankle. But in the last month, Johnson has been healthy but still struggling.
"He's hurting right now," teammate Derek Smith said. "If anyone can have a confidence problem, it's Marques. He's such a great, caring person and takes everything so hard, that it's affecting him. This may be the first time in his career he's had to face adversity."
Added Chaney: "Marques is out of shape to play the type of game (fast-break style) I want to play. Whether it's injuries or whatever, he's not in shape yet."
Chaney gave much the same reason for all three losses during the first week of his reign. Whereas Lynam primarily employed a slow-tempo, set-up offense, Chaney urges the Clippers to run every time they have the ball.
By the fourth quarter, most of the players are out of breath and dragging. Sunday was no different. The Clippers opened a 22-10 lead in the game's first seven minutes but went into a lull for most of the half and trailed, 63-56, entering the third quarter.
Well rested, the Clippers used the running game effectively to pull even (87-87) with 41 seconds left in the third quarter. From there, though, the Kings totally dominated the Clippers, who looked drained of all energy.
The only Clipper who seemed in shape for Chaney's up-tempo style was Smith, who scored 31 points and had 10 rebounds. But when Smith fouled out with 4:07 left, there was no one left to run.
Meanwhile, Kansas City guard Reggie Theus ran circles around the Clippers, scoring 32 points and making 15 assists, both season highs. Smith usually guards Theus, but Chaney had him go against Eddie Johnson in the second half because Johnson was consistently beating Marques Johnson.
Eddie Johnson finished with 29 points--19 in the first half--after scoring 40 against the Clippers last week at the Sports Arena. LaSalle Thompson and Mike Woodson added 16 each for the Kings.
"These guys are not used to running," Chaney said. "That's why you see the spurts. In order to run, you've got to play good defense, get rebounds and kick it out."
Said Johnson: "It's obvious we're not in shape to play 48 minutes of running basketball. This (Sunday) was probably our best chance to get a win on this trip. We've just got to play better, and I've got to snap out of it."